When I thought of the title for my next book, I figured that it must have been done already. It was too obvious: a contemporary pun on Paulo Freire’s revolutionary treatise Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but for now—when so many are so depressed, for a variety of reasons. So I Googled it, and was surprised to find that no one else had used this title for a book. (There were some articles that bore the name, but they were mostly buried in obscure academic journals.)
I had been writing essays about various challenges in the 21st century English classroom, and I figured I could bundle a bunch of these pieces together under this title and make it a timely and maybe even useful book. My endlessly supportive editor Haaris Naqvi at Bloomsbury liked the idea, so I dove in. It worked, for a while: I assembled a draft with interlaced themes of classroom, culture, and community.
I was writing about the insinuation of new technologies in the classroom, from personal smartphones to institutionally adopted learning management systems. I was writing about trigger warnings, increasingly pervasive and layered mental health issues on campus, and how intellectual inquiry was turning into mere data collection. I was writing about my home town of New Orleans, and how my particular institution was adjusting to new modes of learning delivery while staying on mission. This was all under the looming shadow of the Trump presidency and on the eroding landscape of higher education across the United States.
But this was before the COVID-19 pandemic, when everything changed so rapidly and all these facets took on new wrinkles and contortions. So I scrapped the manuscript I had been working on, and I decided to write this book from scratch, in real time as I taught through the pandemic year of 2020 and as I attempted to find my bearings in this new world. In truth, a lot of things that were nascent before the pandemic just found their way out in the open, as our new normal set in. I've revised some of the earlier pieces, which has been an exercise in humility and recalibration.
I'm finishing this book now, with new leadership in the offing and as the current pandemic looks —maybe, with any luck—to be winding down, even as there are many difficult months ahead. I'm writing about the unexpected highs of teaching and the new lowest lows. I'm writing as I teach, and as I myself adjust to my job feeling profoundly different, to conditions that I was never trained for—but which weirdly feel like extensions of things I've been reading and thinking about for a long time.